Metrolife: How I became a rock musician

Metrolife: How I became a rock musician

I was around 16 when my father died. He was a towering figure in my life - a friend and co-conspirator on many shenanigans, a no-nonsense tough guy who knew which of my kinks to iron out and which ones to encourage, and a free spirit who never seemed to be as gainfully employed as my classmates’ dads. At various points, he was sales executive, van driver, small business owner, writer and philosopher. He pulled it off with aplomb – we weren’t wealthy, but we didn’t want for much.

My mother was brought up in the classic South Indian tradition to be an excellent singer, dancer, cook and all-round caregiver; always happy to defer to her mate on weighty matters. If my father’s death left me numb, it left her devastated. It is a testament to her innate strength how she pulled herself together, ran a successful kindergarten school, made and invested money, put me through college and helped buy my first guitars. She’s 76 now, newly retired and coming to grips with ‘not working’.

I define myself as a ‘musician’ now, but up till around the time of my father’s death, all I ever wanted to be was a fighter pilot. Growing up in Bangalore, I frequently sprained my little neck trying to track the Mirage 2000s, MiG 21s and Avro 748s that flashed and roared by overhead on sorties. I knew things about turbofans and turboprops, fancied that I could tell the difference in the engine note of a Pratt & Whitney or Rolls-Royce turbojet (bah, humbug) and built painstaking scale models of Spitfires and Messerschmitts out of cardboard. One of my all-time family heroes was a cousin who was exactly that – a muscular, clean-cut MiG flyer with aviator Ray-Bans and that thousand-yard stare of the professional fighting man.

So this was it – all I had to do was finish up a 12th grade/II PUC with physics and math and I could head off to National Defence Academy. In no time at all I would be flying those amazing machines, giving other little blighters in the suburbs below cricks in their necks. It wasn’t to be.

There was always music in the house – Carnatic stalwarts like T M Soundararajan, S Balachander and Chitti Babu, Western pop from The Ventures and The Shadows (my first guitar influences) to Pepe Jaramillo, orchestral stuff from Henry Mancini to James Last, jazz from Dave Brubeck to Stan Getz… our record player saw a lot of use. I was given my first guitar sometime in school and attended classes with Bhasker Maben, a well-known teacher at the time. I was told I was good at it, but I had Mirages on the brain…

It wasn’t to be. With dad gone, I was suddenly adrift, with a foggy sense that I had to ‘contribute’ and ‘be responsible’. I moped around college, but met the friends that would go on to form the rock band I’m still in. The music healed, helped me feel again, brought a sense of belonging and a feeling of creative purpose and confidence. Enough to push me out of the sciences after 12th grade and into the arts for my Bachelors and Masters degrees. Ten years of jobs and corporate work later, we took a leap of faith, found some kind patrons, and built a business around the band and our love for teaching music.

So, in a way, the flying did happen I guess!